Founded in the mid-19th century on what was described as a ‘barren rock’ at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta, the British fashioned Hong Kong as a low-tax free-trade port from where European merchants did business with Imperial China.
As a Special Administrative Region of China, modern-day Hong Kong continues to be ranked No.1, year after year, on the New York Times/Heritage Foundation’s ‘Index of Economic Freedom’, and the No.3 economy on the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ index for 2009. Its airport is ranked Asia’s No.1 for international traffic with the 2008 passenger throughput being sevenfold the size of the territory’s resident population of 6.9 million. Hong Kong rigorously adopts global accounting and financial standards, strictly enforces intellectual property rights, and champions a transparent bureaucracy with its own permanent and powerful Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Hong Kong’s ‘Basic Law’ de-facto constitution guarantees the use of English-language British-style common law adjudication until 2047. Telecommunication networks that are amongst the most globally competitive complement this softinfrastructure of professional expertise. “I can talk to my father in Sydney or my sister in London from my mobile phone any time I think of them – at call rates far lower than from back home,” says Kerry Mackenzie, an Australian who has taught English Literature at one of Hong Kong’s top high schools for the last three years. “Hong Kong is one of those places from where the rest of the world is just a local phone call away,” she adds.
OFFSHORE FINANCIAL HUB
Hong Kong continues to be Asia’s premier offshore financial centre funneling the lion’s share of global foreign investment into China, and the largest gateway through which Chinese manufactured goods are
re-exported for global consumption. As a hub for two-way merchandise trade, Hong Kong has long-established
itself as a shoppers paradise for international tourists, and has also become the number one destination for mainland Chinese visitors seeking reliable assurance in their purchases of genuine branded luxury goods sourced from Western Europe, North America or Japan. Hong Kong’s allure for expatriates goes beyond the financial, trade or strategic business advantages of their employing firms. Its British colonial legacy also includes continued investments in roads and rail that makes every corner of urban Hong Kong very accessible by efficient public and private transport. “If you are a resident you also have access to health care free of charge”, says Sean Dix, an architect who originally hailed from the United States. Quality affordable healthcare is delivered by medical and health professionals, many of whom were trained abroad in English-speaking countries. The universal use of photo and fingerprinted identification cards in Hong Kong also has the added benefit of effective law and order maintenance and high levels of personal safety. “We feel totally safe in any part of the city that we go to”, says Michela Azzolini, a native of Bologna, Italy, who has been in Hong Kong for a year. “When my teenage boys go out, I would feel far more relaxed than I would be back in Italy,” she added.
HARBOUR SIDE RECREATION
Hong Kong’s dense commercial and residential settlements along a thin strip of shoreline on the picturesque Victoria Harbor and the Kowloon Peninsula, creates a high-rise waterfront profile which – apart from Manhattan’s – is the most globally recognized. For many expatriates, leisure can gravitate towards boating in protected waters, hiking or cycling along hundreds of kilometers of trails snaking through Hong Kong’s signature hill sides. Apart from business opportunities, 30 years of China’s ‘open door’ policy has also expanded the leisure and recreational options for Hong Kong’s residents. The product hypermarkets, spas, leisure centres, and nightlife of adjacent Shenzhen are within easy commuter rail or bus access. The latter is the closest metropolis on the mainland with over 8 million people and a mere 30 kilometers north of Hong Kong Island. While even closer from Kowloon or the New Territories, Shenzhen even boasts a year-round covered alpine indoor ski-slope. For leisure further afield, Macao, Asia’s Las Vegas with its 28 casinos, is within an hour’s fast-ferry ride from Hong Kong while Manila, the Philippines’ capital city, is just over an hour by air. “For weekend getaways, Bangkok, Shanghai and Beijing are within Hong Kong’s three-hour flight radius, while Singapore, Tokyo and Seoul can be reached within four hours of flying,” says Mike Smith, an equities trader in the finance sector who, four years ago, worked in London prior to settling in Hong Kong.
The relative proximity of the Philippines also means that a disproportionate number of expatriate households employ full-time live-in domestic helpers to perform household chores and assist with the care of young children. Some 112,000 Filipino and up to 87,000 Indonesian female domestic helpers comprise 60 percent of Hong Kong’ non-Chinese residents and dwarf the other 14 percent that are of South/West Asian ethnicity (Indian, Nepali or Pakistani), or the 36,000 (11%) who the Government’s Census Department describes collectively as ‘White’. With 90 percent of Hong Kong’s population speaking the Cantonese dialect of Chinese as their first language, and the use of Chinese as the principal medium of instruction in Hong Kong’s schools, expatriates may need to do some homework in planning the education of school-age children. Increasing demand for their children’s English-language proficiency from local Chinese parents has translated into highly competitive placements in the minority of elite local Government run or direct subsidy schools that use English as a medium of instruction. Another outcome are waiting lists for places in the small number of Government-subsidized English Schools Foundation (ESF) institutions that broadly uses the UK curriculum and were established to cater for Hong Kong’s non-Chinese speaking minorities. There is also a small number of fully independent but relatively high-cost private international schools that teach the International Baccalaureate and or specific home country curricula, including those for Australia, the United States, the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Korea and Singapore.
HOME RENTAL AND AIR QUALITY
The high cost of residential property, including rentals puts Hong Kong as the 5th most expensive city globally and the 3rd most expensive city in Asia in the Mercer Consulting 2009 Cost of Living Survey report. In the last year cost pressures on accommodation has abated with the general global economic downturn. However, more recent economic buoyancy on the mainland has brought in cashed-up Chinese investors bidding up the price for top-end luxury apartments. Thus, accommodation allowances should be prime consideration for expatriates considering locating to Hong Kong. Finally, Hong Kong, the Pearl River Delta, and China’s high dependence on coal to power economic hyper-growth has also raised issues of air quality affecting Hong Kong’s quality of life. To many expatriates, however, Hong Kong’s downsides are more than made up for with its upsides. “Working in Hong Kong is an ongoing challenge at the professional, personal and spiritual level. Living in Hong Kong means being able to see the spark, a mindset that thinks about the future and the opportunities it can offer. Essentially it is the city of opportunities. For me, Hong Kong is my home. I do not consider myself an expatriate but an immigrant,” adds Dix.
Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Winter 2009